Photo: Etowah High’s Ollie Finch, Justin Harris, Alex Howard, NyNy Davis and Deaundrea Williams (pictured, from left) display their first-place gold medals during the Class 5A state track and field meet last Saturday (May 4) in Gulf Shores. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
After finishing runner-up at last year’s Class 5A state track and field meet and in third place in 2017, the Etowah High School boys 4×100-meter relay team had no intention of occupying any place other than the top spot on the post-race medal podium at the Gulf Shores Sports Complex.
Not only did the Blue Devil foursome accomplish that goal, they did it in record-setting fashion last Saturday (May 4).
Etowah’s time of 41.35 seconds broke a mark set in 1994 by Smiths Station, who ran the event with a time of 41.47.
“I was confident in our chances [in the 4×100] but still a little bit nervous,” said Etowah track and field head coach Blake Hudson. “But this group was really special, and I’m really proud of them. That record stood for 25 years, so it’s a big accomplishment.”
Overall, the Blue Devils won four gold medals and two silver ones on the way to a third-place overall finish behind Scottsboro and Ramsey.
“Four state championships and two state runner-ups is 16 points, so that was a pretty good showing for us,” said Hudson. “This was the best finish in program history, so I’m really proud for our kids.”
NyNY Davis said he had all the motivation he needed in the 200-meter dash after finishing four-tenths of a second in the 100-meter dash behind Parker’s Jekovan Rhetta, who clocked in at 10.65 seconds. Davis’ winning time of 21.33 seconds bested Rhetta’s 21.82 effort.
“I definitely pushed myself harder after that. I like being under pressure and being in moments like that. Last year I was a weak link and this year I was one of the top dogs, so it was great so see that the hard work you put in during the season pays off at the end.”
Hudson noted that Davis’ speed increases the father he runs in a sprint event.
“If it had been a 110-meter dash, I really think he would have closed on [Parker] and won that race,” said Hudson. “[Davis] was pulling away even further in the 200 down the stretch.”
Even though he won the long jump with a leap of 22-02.50 Harris noted that his best field event is the triple jump, in which he took the silver medal with a 44-06.25 effort.
“I just wanted to go out with a bang, and I did,” said the senior, who will play football for Vanderbilt University this fall. “We knew all year that we had a chance to win the [4×100], and it was really exciting to accomplish it. Me and (fellow senior) DeAundrea [Williams] pushed the sophomores and they pushed us back. Vigor beat us [in the 4×100] the last three years in a row, so it felt really good beating them. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Alex Howard experienced a few tense moments in defending his discus state title, as the senior’s first attempt was for 130 feet and his second was a scratch.
“Everybody out there was PRing, so I really wasn’t sure if I even would make the finals,” he said. “So I had to have a good mark on my last attempt. But I usually throw my best under pressure, and that’s what I did.”
Howard knew that his third throw of 155-06 was a good one upon release.
“It’s one of those things that you can definitely feel as it comes off your hand,” he said. “You can’t get worked up throwing discus; you’ve got to be calm and focused.”
Hudson pointed out that Howard was in fourth place heading into his third and final attempt, so the pressure was on.
“A lot of those kids [in the discus event] were throwing out of minds, and Alex wasn’t there yet,” said Hudson. “But he really let it rip on that third attempt, and it was a battle for second place from there on out.”
Six other area athletes earned medals in Gulf Shores. Southside’s Macie Williams won the girls 5A shot put with a throw of 39-07.00; Sardis’ Brody Lowe came in second behind Howard in the boys 5A discus with a toss of 145-08; Southside’s Camryn Davis won the bronze in the girls 5A
800-meter with a personal-best time of 2:25.18; Hokes Bluff ‘s Braydon Hill finished third in the boys 4A javelin with a throw of 161-04; and Hokes Bluff’s Meghan Cashman took third place in the girls 4A long jump with an effort of 15-08.25.
“I’ve coached some of these seniors since their seventh-grade year, so I’ve watched them grow from boys and girls to young men and young women and seen them improve so much,” said Hudson. “It’s been a blessing for me to have been a part of their lives for so long.”
Hudson added that assistant coach Jim Bogle has been a major factor in the program’s rise over the past several years.
“He’s been a great help, and his knowledge of track has been a great blessing.”
Finishing in the top 10 of their respective events in Gulf Shores were Sardis’ Trent Presley in the boys 5A high jump (fourth, 6-02.00); Hokes Bluff ‘s Haleigh Cashman in the girls 4A long jump (fourth, 15-05.75); Sardis’ Abby Burns in the girls 5A triple jump (fourth, 35-09.50); Etowah’s Zanya McKenzie in the girls 5A discus (fourth, 96-03); Hokes Bluff’s Braydon Hill in the boys 4A triple jump (fifth, 42-06.25); Southside’s Chance Moon in the boys 5A shot put (fifth, 44-08.50); Hokes Bluff’s Hayden Lipscomb in the boys 4A javelin (fifth, 155-02); Hokes Bluff’s Jack Busch in the boys 4A shot put (sixth, 43-00.75); the Gadsden City boys Class 7A 4×100-meter relay team of Alijah Bell, Quinton Densmore, Carte’un Mitchell, Quinsean Davis and D’Javi Byers (sixth, 43.37); Southside’s Chance Moon in the boys 5A discus (seventh, 133-08); Hokes Bluff’s Hayden Lipscomb in the boys 4A discus (eighth, 124-08); Southside’s Ryan Maudsley in both the boys 5A 1600-meter run (eighth, 4:41.00) and 3200-meter run (eighth, 10:14.21); Southside’s Camryn Davis in the girls 5A 1600-meter run (ninth, 5:37.85); Sardis’ Brody Lowe in the boys 5A shot put (ninth, 42-07.75); Gadsden City’s Somara Butcher in the girls 7A shot put (10th, 33-00.00); Etowah’s Zanya McKenzie in the girls 5A shot put (10th, 32-01.75); and Gadsden City’s Tenise Johnson in the girls 7A javelin (10th, 108-04).